User Score
7.2

Generally favorable reviews- based on 19 Ratings

User score distribution:
  1. Positive: 14 out of 19
  2. Negative: 1 out of 19

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  1. Nov 13, 2011
    10
    "Jesus Camp", the 2006 film that profiles Becky Fischer, the controversial, and to some, downright dangerous pastor who runs the Kids on Fire Ministry, is needlessly didactic in its filmic approach. Easily identifiable as a cult, the filmmakers, nevertheless, reiterates this empirical truth with blunt force by framing the movie's narrative surrounding the youth-targeted, hyper-ideological church's rightist rhetoric(smells like child abuse) around a liberal talk show host ranting from his soapbox on how the evangelicals seem to be wrong about almost everything. Viewers, reasonable viewers, that is, with eyes and ears, can make that determination for themselves, minus the liberalist nudging. Every year, the pastor's young flock meets up at Devil's Lake, a politically-minded indoctrination camp masquerading as a holy place for praising god in North Dakota, where the conservative agenda gets programmed into these moldable minds without apology. Blinded by her own zealotry, the pastor can't see the lunacy behind the notion of using children as pro-life activists, when the filmmakers show Fischer the raw footage of an anti-abortionist, creepily handing out fetus replicas for the children to hold and opine upon. For a split second, we think she'll see daylight. But alas, no. "Extreme liberals," she spews, with unchecked ego and hubris, "they have to look at this and start shaking in their boots," oblivious to the fact that it's not just liberals, but apolitical Christians, too, who may find her approach disturbing. After all, higher ground is hardly what Fischer and her kind are reaching for, but rather, it's a ground beneath the clouds, not above; it's federal ground, where politicians, not carpenters walk. To paraphrase Belinda Carlisle, government is a place on earth. Unlike "Jesus Camp", which is marred by the filmmakers' subjective approach, therefore creating a dialectic which ends up overstating the case that parents shouldn't push their children into rote worship of THEIR god, "Higher Ground" gives you the freedom to make up your own mind about the Christian world. That's because the director, a self-described liberal secularist, isn't a conservative-bashing ideologue. Unlike the alternative cinema presented by theological filmmakers, "Higher Ground" doesn't spoonfeed the gospel; it subverts the shopworn trope of a parishoner who loses his/her faith by keeping the lost soul lost to the bitter end. Without overselling the point, and without judgment, Farmiga too, shows us how children have no choice in matters concerning god, as we catch up with a young Corrine in midstream of her religious training at a Protestant church, where during a Sunday school lesson, Pastor Bud asks his kids if they want to go to heaven. It's practically a rhetorical question, a veiled threat, since the alternative, hell, isn't Corrine's idea of a good time, so she raises her hand and makes a covenant with god. It's the spiritual awakening that the mother always wanted for her girl, but a miscarriage performed the effect of secularizing this former magical thinking woman, who prior to her faith-shaking tragedy, would have been delighted that Corrine got saved. Alas, she receives the "good news" from the pastor with complete indifference. Like the protagonist in "Secret Sunshine", another grieving mother with an axe to grind against god, Kathleen seduces the pastor(the pianist goes further with her pious target), since the lord is unavailable for prurient temptation. In the Lee Chang-dong film, a celluloidal sister to "Higher Ground", the Korean mom, whose son is murdered after she fails to pay the ransom set by his kidnapper in full, drinks the kool-aid that Christians serve; the self-delusional prattling that mystifies non-believers, for instance, the pragmatist in "Rabbit Hole", who figures out that making a new angel is a far better plan than the tragedian one that god has in store for us. The mom starts to gag on the kool-aid, following a visit with her child's murderer in prison, and experiences first-hand, the lunacy of Christian dogma, which allows any sin to be forgiven, even murder, as long as you tell god you love him. (Respect Mimi Rodgers' decision in "The Rapture".) The anesthetized woman is shocked to learn that the killer prays for her. Like mother, like daughter, in "Higher Ground", the Stepford wife loses her conviction in the sacrosanct word after Annika, a good friend, stops speaking in tongues, and then stops speaking altogether, when brain tumor silences Corrine's true soulmate. She finds no grace from suffering. It doesn't make Corrine a heretic; it makes her human. Down deep inside, Corrine knows that god is a lie, but you can tell, just by looking at her face as she walks out of the church for the final time, that her feminism and intelligence are cold comforts in comparison to the warm embrace of subjugation in the patriarchal order of Christianity. Expand
  2. Aug 30, 2011
    9
    I was shocked at how good this movie is. The trailer does it no justice whatsoever. Vera's acting performance is excellent (as usual), but she's one terrific director as well. The movie deals with some series subjects (marriage, friendship) sensitively within a religious setting, but it never stoops to caricature. The music is spot on. Dagmara Dominczyk gives her personal best performance in the film as well. Expand
  3. Sep 9, 2011
    9
    This film is a portrayal of a woman who from childhood needed to feel something. After a sudden dramatic event that followed her early marriage, Corinne and her husband turn toward religion. In that setting she makes friends with an earthy woman, who brings to Corinne's consciousness her unsatisfactory love life. With another unexpected event Corinne begins to waver about the "something" she had found in religion.

    The film-memoir is enacted by an outstanding ensemble of performances. Even some of the bit players are allowed to be more than cliches. I don't know who among non-believers, the somewhat religious or very religious will find this film the most interesting or disturbing. It should please anyone who believes that movies can be a form of art.

    We should be grateful to Vera Farmiga, who played the central charactor and was the director, for the excellent work.
    Expand
  4. Sep 17, 2011
    9
    This is a really good movie. Farmiga's acting and her direction provides the visual representation of the isolation one feels when one begins to doubt the beliefs of the community. Her character experiences the soft sexism of a traditional society that holds prescribed roles for women and consequently and inadvertently discourages her personal development. The community is fundamentalist Christian, but anyone who has struggled with a belief in anything can relate to this character's alienation. Expand
Metascore
74

Generally favorable reviews - based on 34 Critics

Critic score distribution:
  1. Positive: 29 out of 34
  2. Negative: 1 out of 34
  1. Reviewed by: Mike Scott
    Oct 14, 2011
    75
    It also is a film that does the impossible: It lubes its audiences' mental gears and sets them to spinning without insulting anyone and without issuing threats of eternal damnation. Subtlety, thy name is Vera. Can I get an "amen"?
  2. Reviewed by: Steve Persall
    Sep 28, 2011
    75
    It's a quiet story, without many emotional outbursts and no villains. Parts of Higher Ground are dull, honestly. But the movie always feels honest about its subject.
  3. Reviewed by: Rick Groen
    Sep 22, 2011
    75
    The film's quiet realism demands from us our own act of faith: We're asked to watch closely and to listen intently in the promise of a greater reward to come. Well, the promise is partly kept.